When I was a young kid, around four or five years old, I really wanted to learn to ride a bike. My parents started me of with the customary training wheels at first. I practiced and practiced. I couldn’t wait until I was let loose and able to ride on my own. That day came not too long after although, at the time, it felt like an eternity.
My youth was filled with countless other similar experiences of wanting something, but having to wait until I was older. A perfect example that most of us experienced was learning to drive. That goal was on our radar for a very long time and, as we got closer, the milestone seemed like it took forever to arrive. Time slowed to a crawl. We attempted to will it forward.
As children, we eagerly anticipated the passage of time. We looked forward to becoming older because it meant new and exciting things in our life. Time went slow, yet we yearned for it to go by fast. Christmas and birthdays couldn’t get there soon enough. About the only occasion in which we hoped time would slow to a crawl was during summer vacations from school!
All Grown Up
Once we enter the “real world” as grown ups, we start viewing time much differently. It speeds up exponentially. The years start flying by and before we know it we are turning 25, 30, 40…you know, those super “old” ages that were incomprehensible to us as children.
As adults, we want time to slow down. We are uneasy about aging and do whatever we can to retain our youth. Yet, despite the different age perspectives on how fast time passes, there’s still an element we retain from our youth:
Being impatient when it comes to accomplishing major life achievements.
Why is this? How come, as adults, we are still pre-occupied with attaining these important milestones? Is it because of our biological clocks? Are we just too narrowly focused? Do we have a “one-track mind”?
Everyone Else has Done It!
I believe there are numerous reasons why we become anxious to meet our life expectations. Sometimes we are just goal oriented and driven to succeed. Other times we are excited or engrossed in our objectives and do whatever we can to make them happen. Two other reasons that I want to highlight are:
- We have our own internal life goals or deadlines (we wanted to get married by a certain age, have two kids by 30, get a dream job in place by 35, etc.)
- We look around and compare to everyone else (we see that everyone else around us – family and friends – are accomplishing similar goals which, in turn, causes us to panic and feel stagnant about our life path)
I’ve encountered several examples over the years with my wife (Note: I’m not trying to speak disparagingly about her. Sometimes it’s just easier to notice and observe this urgency in others rather than self-reflect). We dated for just over four years before we married. Along the way, many of her friends and acquaintances tied the knot. She was happy for each of them of course, but that didn’t prevent her from feeling more and more antsy each time we attended another ceremony. After one wedding in particular, she had a mini-breakdown because she felt as if life was passing her by (that’s a lot of pressure on a guy, isn’t it!).
After we were married, the cycle started over again – this time it was about having kids! All those same friends and acquaintances that were getting married before were now having kids. To my wife, everyone was doing it. She internalized that perception and ended up putting unneeded pressure on herself which then, in turn, put pressure on me.
In each of these situations, my wife had always planned to be married and have kids by previously elapsed age thresholds. Compounding the situation was the constant bombardment and subsequent comparison to others who were all “ahead in life” (darn you Facebook!).
You know what my response was in these and similar situations: “Life isn’t a race!”
Life is Not a Race
So, here’s my message to you today:
“Life is not a race. There’s no prize for finishing first. In fact, finishing means you’ve died! There’s no need to rush through life.”
This is not a call to be lazy or ignore important goals. You need to work hard and do your best to steer your life where you want it to be. But, if you aren’t there yet, don’t beat yourself up over it. This can apply to all facets of your life where you might feel like you are behind the pace. As far as personal finances go (this is a personal finance site after all!), areas where this might apply include savings progress toward retirement or your children’s college fund. Or perhaps you have a huge amount of debt to payoff and feel buried. Maybe you haven’t advanced your career to where you assumed you’d be by now. Whatever it is, do your best not to get overwhelmed and put undue stress on yourself.
Most of all, don’t compare to where others are and what they’ve accomplished. It does you no good.
This lesson can be difficult to remember when you’re going through the daily hustle and bustle. Trust me, I know. I’m also not trying to preach from a pulpit – I often struggle with being impatient as well. It’s all too easy to become fixated and then obsess about how close or not you are to achieving that goal. When I find myself getting carried away, I do my best to take a step back and remind myself of this important lesson…life is not a race.
Is life often a race for you? Do you get caught up in wanting to attain milestones quickly and then forget that life is the journey that happens along the way?